Many things can be said about Ryan Murphy, but the man knows how to create a hit show and deliver a good pilot. He seems to have done both with the brazenly funny and endlessly heartwarming The New Normal, positioning itself at the top of the pilots I’ve seen so far this season. The pilot details the beginnings of a “new normal” family with a gay couple David and Bryan (Justin Bartha and Andrew Rannels) wanting to start a family. After going to an agency and striking out, they meet with Goldie (Georgia King) who has fled to California with her daughter (Bebe Wood) after finding her husband in bed with another woman. SHe agrees to be their surrogate because she wants to provide them with a child and the $35,000 will help her reclaim her dreams of going to law and becoming a lawyer. Her grandmother, “Nana From Hell” Jane (Ellen Barkin), isn’t too happy with the situation but Goldie goes on with it, setting the stage for many a hilarious situation as she carries their child.
There is so much to praise about this show, from the acting to the costume design. But what really stuck out for me was the deft way in which Murphy and writing partner Ali Adler managed to balance the adult humor, sweetness of a family comedy, and the important themes. This being a Ryan Murphy show, he won’t hesitate to wallop you over the head or mince words, giving you lines like “Love is love” or giving Nene Leakes a titanic takedown of a speech to shout at Ellen Barkin’s bigoted character. But even these things are offset by a more mature scene where we’re shown couples on the playground that wouldn’t have been allowed to have children or be considered normal. And surprisingly, Murphy let’s moments of genuine humanity like when Bryan and David are in the bed discussing which one of them will father the child and *gasp* they kiss! How controversial! But in all seriousness it’s the moments like that and the dialog between Goldie and her daughter that imbue the show with a great sense of heart that should carry the show throughout the season.
But don’t let the above paragraph fool you, this is still an adult aimed comedy and the earnestness of the show makes the comedy that much funnier. The humor ranges from the tame (jokes about not being able to return a baby to Barneys) to the hilariously inappropriate (“She doesn’t even have HPV and you can throw a cat and hit a woman with that”). In a hilarious confrontation at the doctor’s office, Barkin’s character calls the gay couple “salami smokers” right in front of her great grand daughter. Many bitingly crude and fantastically un-PC lines are strewn about the script and the actors deliver them with great aplomb.
Speaking of the acting, everyone in pilot delivers first rate performances, even the cameos. Goldie King and Justin Bartha are great, even when they are being overshadowed by the more showy performances of the two other main actors. Ellen Barkin is a riot as the racist, homophobic, card carrying member of the Million Moms. She’s so fantastically over the top, but as is revealed in the pilot was made that way after living a rather interesting life. I wished they would have gone further with Barkin’s character. There’s no need to humanize her any more when people actually say and believe the things she does, and Barkin is a good enough actress to make us like her even if the character she’s playing is terrible.
The breakout star of this show is Andrew Rannels, who people might recognize as Elijah from Girls or from his Tony nominated performance as Elder Price in The Book of Mormon. He gets to play the more flamboyant half of the couple but as in Mormon, he excels in making the extravagant feel real and organic. His chemistry with Justin Bartha is great and their scenes are the highlights of the show.
While there will be a lot of talk about the controversies from One Million Moms and the Utah NBC affiliate that is refusing to broadcast the show, the conversation should be, and I think will, focused on just how good of a pilot this was. The show has a lot of promise and if it can continue to balance the adult humor and family comedy elements, this could be the breakout show of the fall.
The New Normal premieres on Monday, Sept 9 before settling into it’s regular Tuesday 9:30/8:30c timeslot the following day.